Will Lebanon Legalize Cannabis?
Lebanon is one of the largest producers and exporters of cannabis/marijuana/hashish (UN) and now the government wants it on the lucrative market.
By: Myrna Daher/Arab America Contributing Writer
Abu Jafaar, a cannabis farmer in Beqaa Valley (وادي البقاع) Lebanon, generates much revenue from cultivating crops of hashish/cannabis/marijuana that has warranted 30 warrants out for his arrest. Beqaa Valley has been known for centuries as the most fertile valley within Eastern Lebanon and remains the most valuable farming region. Other than Abu Jafaar, there are many other Lebanese farmers growing hashish to generate money to survive. The farmers have been interested in legalizing the crop for 20 years. The Lebanese are currently in desperate financial need and are interested in capitalizing on the farmer’s hashish to generate capital for the country’s failing economy.
“The livelihoods of tens of thousands of people depend on its cultivation, while successive governments’ attempts to cease production have failed.” Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr
Historically, Lebanon’s government has failed to destroy the crops/hashish because, for twenty years, tens of thousands of people have been depending on its cultivation. The business has been passed on from their ancestors who planted these crops. They have been fighting to keep their successes and to avoid government control of such an essential industry.
Elizabeth Habchi, one of the members of the Lebanese Parliament, told Al Jazeera,
Beqaa Valley currently makes up 40% of Lebanon’s arable land. Zahlé, which is the capital of Beqaa, is known for its countless wineries, olive groves, figs, pomegranate trees, and cannabis. As previously mentioned, the valley’s fertile soil highlights Beqaa as a prime agricultural region. In fact, the United Nations also recognizes Lebanon as the 3rd largest producer and exporter of cannabis. Historically, hashish was prohibited in 1926 during the French Mandate for Syria – Lebanon, and later, the U.S. mounted assertive pressures in 1992 to prohibit the use, sell or crop of the plant.
Hezbollah has a major effect on the Lebanese people. It is associated with the government due to their political impact on Lebanon’s voice. Using their influence, Hezbollah is trying to achieve a fair law to protect the farmers if the government attempts to gain control and stabilize the use of marijuana for medical purposes only.
Whichever way the country decides to undertake this issue, research on the plant needs to take place to assist the legalization of cannabis within Lebanon. Dr. Mohamad Mroueh, professor of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacology at the Lebanese American University, is studying the cannabis from the Beqaa Valley.
“This is very new,” he said. “We’ve only been doing research for a couple of months. So far I’ve prepared the cannabis oil from a legal sample that we’ve received from the government and now we’re doing the pre-clinical testing against inflammation and against various types of cancer cells.”
Dr. Mohamad Mroueh is beginning the research of controlled samples to test the positive effects marijuana has on the human body; therefore, allowing Lebanon to control the drug for medical purposes. Lebanon’s ability to earn a profit off land that is able to produce top quality marijuana at large amounts is a powerful argument, especially during its deteriorating economy. However, the farmers hold a strong placement of fear of the government due to their previous efforts in destroying the crops.
In the past, both parties were aware of red zones of danger if trespassing on property or caught transporting drugs with the ultimate risk of money being seized.
Most states in the U.S. still enforce penalty to those who get caught with possession of marijuana; however, in some states, the regulation of marijuana has been legalized and the drug or the “gifting” of the drug to exchange without the intent of “selling” it, allowing the earnings to stay private.
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., CNBC reported about the legalization of marijuana and how the state is functioning. A study was conducted in 2014 by the District officials who estimated the market was worth over $120 million within a year, with of course a deduction for the local government within the millions based on total revenue. If you think that is an enormous revenue, then, you’ll be wowed by the estimated $20 billion that is estimated by 2020 in marijuana sales.
Lebanon might decide to take this opportunity to pay off their national debt because their GDP is at an all-time high. They might use the studies that confirm the medical benefits of marijuana. The medical purpose could be a win for Lebanon. There are hopes for an agreement that can be settled in favor of both parties to help the people medically and financially, including citizens and refugees.